Graduate school is an investment of your time and money. The key is knowing what you want from your education before making the investment. Below are questions to consider as you decide. If your decision is to apply, career consultants can review your resume and personal statement, and prepare you to interview.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What kind of positions am I qualified for with my undergraduate degree?
  • Will a graduate degree be beneficial for better job offers, higher initial starting salaries, and advancement opportunities in my chosen career?
  • What types of graduate and professional degree programs exist for my chosen career and where are they?
  • Should I look at pursuing a master’s degree or earning another baccalaureate degree?

Factors You Should Consider

  • How do I feel about taking more tests, writing papers again, and having lots of reading?
  • Does the thought of more studying trigger anxiety and stress?
  • What are the application procedures and admission requirements?
  • Will the program I complete require a thesis or dissertation?
  • How long will I have to complete the program of study?
  • What about cost (cost of living, out-of-state tuition, rent, on-campus housing, health insurance, miscellaneous expenses)?
  • Does the department or university offer assistantships to offset the cost of tuition and/or provide work experience?
  • Will I have to participate in an internship, practicum, or field experience?
  • Do I need relevant work experience? (Some graduate programs, including many MBA programs, strongly encourage students to get relevant work experience first.)
  • Does the program require passing comprehensive examinations to successfully complete the program?
  • What is the placement rate into full-time employment?


Admissions Criteria

Admissions criteria are among the main factors you should consider when applying to graduate and professional schools. Criteria for admission typically include:

  • Grade Point Average (GPA)
  • Scores from a Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Miller Analogies Test (MAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
  • Personal Statement
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Admissions Essay(s)
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Career consultants review personal statements as well as resumes and CVs by appointment. Visit Testing Services for registration info on graduate school admission testing.

How Many Schools

A common recommendation is to apply to five or six schools, reflecting the following categories:

  • One program that is extremely desirable with very competitive admissions standards
  • Three programs that are realistic for you in terms of admission standards and that also meet your criteria
  • Two programs you are confident in being admitted to that meet your criteria

When to Start Submitting Applications

Many graduate programs have deadlines from December to March, however, deadlines vary. If you would like an assistantship, make sure you meet the stated deadline. When awarding assistantships, departments review applications of students who have been fully admitted by the deadline. If a school has a rolling admissions deadline, it means they do not wait until the deadline to send notifications of acceptance. If this is the case, it can benefit you to apply early.


The two essays most often associated with applications to graduate school are the statement of purpose and the personal statement. If you are not sure which essay is preferred, you can always contact the department and ask for clarification.

Statement of Purpose

Focus on your interests and experiences as they relate to what you plan to do during and after your time in the program. Connect your professional or research interests with faculty in each program you’re targeting.
To see some examples of statements of purpose, visit

Personal Statement

Mention academic/professional interests as they relate to the specific program, but share more about your life (e.g., experiences that shaped your character). Make sure the personal information you share aligns with the prompt or directions provided.

Typically, there is a page or word count limit, so write concisely and proofread thoroughly. The Career Center can talk you through possible topics and proofread your document once you’ve written it. Additionally, you can visit the Writing Center at UA for further, detailed proofing.

To see some examples of personal statements, visit

The UA Career Center does not suggest paying for the available services at either of the websites listed above. Rather, students can reference the free tips and samples on those sites, but work with a UA career consultant for complimentary personal assistance.

The Writing Process

Regardless of which type of essay you write, allow yourself plenty of time for revisions. Many students find the essay challenging and remembering general writing strategies can help:

  1. Brainstorm: Based on the prompt, jot down what comes to mind during reflection. This may include reasons why you want to be in your chosen profession, why you want a particular program, experiences that led you to your interests, etc. When you finish, look for common themes or concepts that you may want to write about in your paper.
  2. Organize: Making an outline of what you plan to write about is helpful when writing your first draft. Typically, you want to have an opening paragraph that informs the reader of your intent and also ‘hooks’ them so they want to keep reading.
  3. Free Write: Just start writing! In this step, try not to worry about format, spelling/grammar, or flow. It may be helpful to set a timer and commit to writing for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Draft: Once you finish your rough draft, picture your audience and read what you have written. Are your experiences, goals, and interests clear? Make any edits related to those questions, as well as any grammar or punctuation issues you notice.
  5. Review: Have someone else (or a few people) look over your document. We encourage you to have a career consultant take a look at your draft to offer feedback, and also recommend a visit to the UA Writing Center for detailed proofreading.

Letters of Recommendation

It’s common for graduate schools to ask for letters of recommendation. Some specify whether they want letters from faculty, supervisors, etc., and other schools leave it up to the applicant to decide.

If given the choice, and assuming you’re asked for three letters, a good rule of thumb is to choose two writers who have taught you, and one who has supervised you.

Be sure you consider both the relevance of the person’s experience to the given field, and also the extent to which the prospective writer knows you. It is typically better to go with a writer who knows you well regardless of position, versus someone in a position of higher authority (e.g., the chair of the department that has only encountered you once or twice). You want the letter to clearly articulate your work ethic, experience, interest, etc., and not simply communicate what letter grade you earned.

As with any reference, ask the recommenders you have in mind before listing them as references. You can do this a number of different ways, but consider how the person prefers to be contacted (if you know that information), and go with the most personable option. For example, if you have class with the person twice a week, it may be best to stay after class and ask the instructor in person.

Ask if the person is comfortable with and willing to write a strong recommendation on your behalf. If you sense any reluctancy, let them know you are okay with them declining due to either not knowing you well enough, not having enough time, or some other reason. Be prepared to answer questions about programs you’re applying to, why you want to pursue a degree in that field, etc., and also be ready to offer the recommender a copy of your resume. This will provide them additional insight into your overall qualifications.

Because professors and supervisors tend to get many requests for letters of recommendation, it is best to ask for their help a month in advance. Provide them with information they’ll need, including a link to where they’ll submit the letter, a link to the program; your resume; your contact information; and a stamped and addressed envelope if the department requests hard copies.

Being prepared and thinking ahead will greatly help your prospective writer, as will a gentle reminder when the deadline approaches. Once the letter has been submitted, be sure to thank your recommender and keep them posted on the result.


Most graduate schools will ask for a transcript from any current or former colleges or universities. Typically, they will ask for an official transcript, which means you as the applicant were not able to see it (it will be delivered electronically or via a sealed, signed envelope). If ever you’re asked for an unofficial transcript (for a school or for a job), you can send a scanned copy of a transcript you’ve opened yourself. To order a transcript from UA, visit the University Registrar.

Financial Aid and Assistance

Each school and lending institution has its own standards for the application process and system of awarding financial assistance; check the website of the school or program for details. Some departments have graduate assistantships, offering payment and tuition assistance. Applying for an assistantship is typically a different process than applying for the graduate program, so research the steps you’ll need to take.